EDITORIAL: More police training needed to handle mentally ill people

FresnoJuly 10, 2014 

The now viral video taken by a passing motorist is chilling. On the shoulder of the Santa Monica Freeway, a California Highway Patrol officer sworn to protect and defend us sits astride a 51-year-old mentally ill woman and pummels her.

The incident, which occurred last week, is yet another illustration of California's flawed system for caring for severely mentally ill people. It points to the lack of training given to some law enforcement officers to handle such people, even though officers all too often are society's front-line mental health care providers.

It's not known what transpired before the camera flipped on. But the officer's reaction was much more reminiscent of a mixed martial arts brawl than by-the-book law enforcement work.

The officer is relatively new to the force, apparently having been on the job for 18 months. His name hasn't been released, and he is on desk duty. The investigation will take weeks.

Rather than wait for the investigation to be completed, CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow, the head of the agency, has become directly engaged in the matter, to his credit.

Farrow went to Los Angeles on Tuesday where he met with activists and held a news conference, telling reporters, "This is one of the most significant events of my 34-year career that I've ever dealt with. We've never seen this before.

"I heard (the community outcry) loud and clear. We put the issue right on the table in front of us. We're dealing with it. We're not going to run and hide."

The woman, identified as Marlene Pinnock, has had several run-ins with police. On the video, she is seen walking barefoot along the freeway when the officer catches her.

Apparently trying to stop her from walking into traffic, the officer muscles her to the ground. All that might be appropriate, except then he hits her repeatedly with his gloved right fist.

The incident recalls the horrible night in 2011 when Fullerton police officers confronted a homeless mentally ill man, Kelly Thomas, and beat him to death. That, too, was captured on video.

It also recalls the police-officer-involved shooting death in Lodi of Parminder Singh Shergill, a mentally ill Army veteran of the Gulf War; recent shooting deaths in Salinas; and many others, too numerous to list.

Marlene Pinnock is alive. But the issues remain. Society must do better by people who are severely mentally ill. Police need better training to handle them.


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